Red Cross says Cyclone Pam survivors need urgent help, launches $3.8 million appeal

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The survivors of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu are desperate for water, food and safe shelter, the Red Cross said on Tuesday as it launched an emergency appeal for 3.9 million Swiss francs ($3.8 million). The cyclone, one of the worst to affect the Pacific region, caused mass destruction when it tore through the archipelago country on Friday and Saturday with winds of more than 300 kph (185 mph). The United Nations said on Tuesday the official death toll from the cyclone was 11, revising down its earlier figure of 24, but many officials anticipate that number would rise once they are able to more thoroughly inspect the outer islands of the scattered archipelago. "We are extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of many communities affected by the cyclone, particularly in the more remote regions of the country that are only accessible by boat," said Aurélia Balpe, regional head of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The government estimates that 130,000 people have been affected by the disaster, almost half the country's population. The typhoon left some 3,300 people homeless, and officials anticipate that the number will rise once they are able to land on Vanuatu's outer islands. The majority of Vanuatu's six provinces are flooded and inaccessible, and communication is possible only intermittently across the country, the IFRC said. Aid agencies were preparing on Tuesday to begin emergency helicopter flights to Vanuatu's remote outer islands. The Vanuatu Red Cross is coordinating relief efforts with the government along with other aid agencies by distributing blankets, tarpaulins, water purification systems and kitchen sets. "We will need all the help we can get in the coming weeks and months," said Jacqueline de Gaillande, chief executive of Red Cross Vanuatu. "And we need it urgently. People are desperate for water, food and safe shelter, and time is of the essence." The IFRC appeal aims to help meet the most urgent needs of up to 60,000 people affected by the disaster. (Reporting by Thomson Reuters Foundation; Editing by Katie Nguyen)